One of the more unusual symptoms linked to genital herpes is nerve pain down the leg, usually left leg pain. Herpes nerve pain is under-recognized by doctors, but many people living with the virus report this unusual symptom. Herpes neuralgia and left leg pain is actually a common side effect.
Herpes Nerve Pain: Symptoms
For people who experience this herpes nerve pain side effect, it can be disconcerting and unusual. The feeling is of a muscle and skin tenderness that makes the skin surface extremely sensitive to touch. Some describe it as an “electrical shock” sensation. It usually starts at the base of the spine (tailbone) and down the left thigh, although in rare cases it occurs on the right leg. The nerve pain then spreads over the next couple of days down the leg to the heel and also might be felt in the genital area. It’s similar to sciatica, affecting the sciatic nerve, but it is not related to herniated discs or similar obvious physical trauma.
Why Does it Happen?
Since this occurs in people right before more traditionally recognized herpes outbreak symptoms occur, it’s a HSV-2 herpes prodrome symptom. Prodrome symptoms are the warning signs you might sometimes get when you are about to have an outbreak. However, some people experience the nerve pain but are able to stop it before the outbreak occurs. Prodrome symptoms can also signal that you are contagious through viral shedding.
When the virus isn’t active, the herpes virus lies dormant in the sacral ganglia – that is, the base of the spine. So it makes sense that when the virus becomes active, the spine and nerves can be affected. Luckily, however, it usually goes away within the week and can be managed.
How to Relieve It
Herpes nerve pain and left leg pain can be extremely uncomfortable. Fortunately, these symptoms typically will fade within a week. Of course, you would probably still prefer to shorten that time frame!
Antivirals: The best thing to do is to take any antiviral medication your doctor has prescribed you (Valtrex or acyclovir, for example), and watch your diet for any herpes triggers and manage those. This can speed up the healing time and also prevent it from becoming a full-blown outbreak. Many people have noted that nerve pain stops just as any outbreak would when they take an antiviral medication.
Comfort: For immediate relief, you should of course avoid touching or lying on the area or wearing restrictive clothes. Taking a shower or lying still with a heating pad may also help.
Over-the-counter pain medicine like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be helpful. A doctor may be able to prescribe you something stronger, but please always be careful with prescription pain medications, as they can be addictive.
Topical Creams: Creams that contain the active ingredient Capsaicin may stop the pain signals from reaching your brain. In fact, one such cream is used specifically for post-herpetic neuralgia related to shingles, another herpes virus. It’s called “Zostrix”. You can find it and other similar products here.
Herpes nerve pain and leg pain is extremely common among genital herpes sufferers, and yet doctors largely remain ignorant of this side effect. A simple Google search will return tons of posts from people with herpes experiencing the exact same herpes nerve pain. So no, as you well know, you are not imagining your symptoms and neither are thousands of others! As long as you treat the symptoms like you would a regular herpes outbreak, you can make it go away.